Singapore comics celebrated at month-long event Speech Bubble

Sonny Liew, author of graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, is co-curating the exhibition on the history of comics in Singapore.
Sonny Liew, author of graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, is co-curating the exhibition on the history of comics in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

A month-long event on Singapore comics will include talks by comic creators as well as an exhibition on the history of the art form here

Film-maker Eric Khoo has an unexpected past: Before he became one of the biggest names in Singapore cinema, he started off telling his stories through comics in the late 1980s.

The comics he drew were printed in magazines here and, in 1989, he released his graphic novel Unfortunate Lives: Urban Stories And Uncertain Tales.

Khoo's story - small-time comic artist turned silver screen success - is just one of the less-known sides of Singapore's comics scene showcased at Speech Bubble, an event at the National Library Building this month.

The month-long event - organised by multimedia company Potato Productions and which opens tonight - celebrates Singapore comics and their rich and colourful history.

The line-up includes an exhibition of works from the days of British rule to the present - curated by graphic novelist Sonny Liew and comics historian Lim Cheng Tju - and talks and workshops by personalities in the industry.

Liew, whose graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye has since its publication last year received up a string of awards, says: "It's true that the comics industry here isn't as developed as the ones in the United States or Japan, but there's still a rich history here that I don't think has ever been brought together in a serious way."

  • VIEW IT / SPEECH BUBBLE

  • WHERE: National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Tonight till Sept 30. Talks and workshops at various timings. Opening is from 6.30 to 8.30pm tonight at Basement 1 of the National Library Building

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: speechbubble.sg

The 41-year-old sees Speech Bubble as a start.

The talks and workshops span a wide range of topics. Illustrator Andrew Tan, also known as Drewscape, who was nominated for an Eisner Award - the Oscars of the comic industry - in 2013, will speak on How To Draw Comics The Non-Marvel Way.

Association of Comic Artists (Singapore) president Jerry Hinds will conduct workshops on constructing characters and editing a comic.

The exhibition will give people here a chance to discover unfamiliar creators and books, while those who have been or still are involved in the industry can "look back at where we've come from and to look forward to how we can work together to help the industry grow", says Liew.

It runs from tomorrow till Sept 30 and showcases books, artefacts and original artworks from creators such as Johnny Lau - the man behind Mr Kiasu - and Troy Chin, who is behind the autobiographical comic series The Resident Tourist.

Liew was keen to show the role comics have played in Singapore - in fields ranging from education to politics - and highlight works he encountered growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, a time when creators faced an uphill struggle to make comics in a tough local market.

He says: "There were creators such as Chan Man Loon, Khoo and Bertrand Tan, many of whom provided inspiration just by their willingness to try to make comics whatever the odds."

Many of the items on display came from personal contacts and collections, so it took "a lot of luck to assemble this collection", says co-curator Lim.

While Singapore comics are getting their time in the sun, it is still an uphill battle. Charlie Chan may have been a resounding success, but Liew himself finds the comics market in Singapore a tough one.

Technology, however, is giving creators here a leg up, opening up new avenues for making comics and getting them noticed.

"It would certainly have been a lot trickier working for publishers overseas before the days of the Internet - everything would have to be sent by snail mail," says Liew, whose daily strip Frankie & Poo ran in The New Paper in 1995, while he was still an undergraduate at Cambridge University in Britain.

"I remember even sending some comics to The New Paper by fax when I was in Britain, absurd as the idea seems now."

While the community of comics creators is growing, readers here still need to be courted. Lim notes that they are still more likely to reach for American comics or Japanese manga over works from Singapore.

He hopes Speech Bubble will open their eyes to what Singapore has to offer.

"If nothing else, I hope the audience will learn that comics are more than American superhero comics or Japanese manga. They can also be everyday and exciting stories created by Singapore artists."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2016, with the headline 'Comics in Singapore pack a pow'. Print Edition | Subscribe